Take a day trip in the name of theater

Chances are, if you’re into visiting the theater with your children, you’ve run the course of choices available in Chicago, and probably the suburbs, too. If you are looking for something different, gather the family together and head 90 minutes north, where you will find one of the nation’s most acclaimed children’s theaters.

First Stage in downtown Milwaukee offers a variety of shows throughout the year, including the First Steps Series just for kids 3-6 and a training program for high school actors. But it is truly its family-focused extras that make it worth the trip.

April 1-May 1, families can check out Ella Enchanted, a musical about a young girl given a curse at birth. As she tries to reverse it, she encounters the fairy tale staples of ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, fairy godmothers and of course, a handsome prince, in the world premiere of this musical that is recommended for kids 6 and older.

May 13-June 12, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse takes the stage. Based on the book by the same name, the adventure follows Lilly, a young mouse who is ready for anything … until the day her baby brother arrives. If you’ve got little ones at home, this story will be easier for them to follow. It is recommended for kids 3 and older.

Both shows take place at the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center (929 N. Water St.) in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets begin at just $12.50 and won’t cost you more than $40 for the best seats in the house. The theater only seats about 500 people, which means you’ll be up close and personal no matter where you sit.

Since Milwaukee is a bit of a hike, you might want to make a day of it. And thanks to the theater’s downtown location, you easily can. It is right in the middle of the city, so plan on paying for parking. Fortunately, parking is considerably cheaper than Chicago (around $10 for the day), and by using parkmilwaukee.com, you can find just the right spot and get the price ahead of time.

Within blocks of the theater, there are a bunch of national chain restaurants, but if you’re up for an adventure, check out local favorite Ian’s Pizza (146 E. Juneau Ave.). Dive into some of the most unique specialty pizzas around, such as the Smoked Brisket and Tots pie, topped with homemade BBQ sauce, mozzarella, smoked brisket, and yes, tater tots. Other options include Chipotle Sweet Potato, Maui Wowie, and even some kid-friendly options like Mac N’ Cheese or Quesadilla.

Squeeze in a little more theater by attending a First Stage workshop or tour. On April 16 and May 21, join First Stage for a free Family Workshop at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. These workshops last 45-60 minutes. Or on April 24, May 21 and June 5, register for a free backstage tour following your show to see where all that stage magic really happens.

For more information, to order tickets or book a workshop or backstage experience, call (414) 267-2961 or go online to firststage.org.

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